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Fugitive billionaire Vladimir Plahotniuc’s godson, Andrian Candu, is spearheading an operation to regain a share of power in Moldova, under the guise of a parliamentary coalition. Plahotniuc was Moldova’s de facto ruler, flanked by Candu (then-chairperson of the parliament), until the June 2019 regime change, when Plahotniuc fled the country. Despite his absence, Plahotniuc’s Democratic Party held out in the national legislature; and so did the “Shor Party” of Ilan Shor, Moldova’s second-wealthiest fugitive.
Plahotniuc and Shor fled to the United States and Israel, respectively, last June. They are among the prime suspects in several unresolved Moldovan and international cases, including the billion-dollar Moldovan bank fraud (discovered in 2014) (see EDM, April 10, 2018), international money laundering (see EDM, April 3, 2019), and the cession of Chisinau’s International Airport to Russian companies (in 2013) (see EDM, October 8, 9, 2013).
Candu now operates in Chisinau with the Democratic Party’s “Pro Moldova” offshoot and the Shor Party. He is an extraordinarily skillful political operator, currently wreaking havoc on Chisinau’s political scene as he glides through parliamentary halls and video appearances, displaying all the while his trademark brazen smirk. Candu portrays this operation as aiming to oust Moldova’s Russophile Socialists from power, replacing them with a pro-Western coalition—and do this, if possible, ahead of the November presidential election in Moldova.
Moldova‘s regime change 11 months ago was dubbed as “de-oligarchization”; equally, it was seen as the first move to decriminalize the system, starting from its top.
The topic of “oligarchic revanche” is currently being discussed in neighboring Ukraine, whose system offers a case study in oligarchy. Moldova, however, never developed an oligarchy, which is a group phenomenon by definition. Moldova was a case of one-man rule under Plahotniuc with his subordinate ally Shor. The two men are more accurately described as individual plutocratic figures. A revanche operation on their part was neither foreseen nor predetermined, but it now seems to be in full swing in Moldova.
The opening move sought to regain control of the Democratic Party, which, in Plahotniuc’s absence, had been coopted into the Socialist-led governing coalition and amply rewarded with ministerial posts. The party’s executive chairperson, Pavel Filip (Plahotniuc’s longtime associate, prime minister in 2016–2019), made the rewarding deal with the Socialists, despite Plahotniuc asking him to step down. All this made it hard for Plahotniuc to wrest back control over the entire party.
Candu, therefore, has split the Democratic Party, taking away from it a “Pro Moldova” wing of Plahotniuc diehards. Transfers of parliamentary deputies from the old party to Pro Moldova have deliberately been staggered over a period of several weeks, to maximize the political impact. In parallel, Pro Moldova is coopting many local branches of the Democratic Party and party-affiliated mayors. According to Filip (see above) and the party’s honorary chair, Dumitru Diacov, Candu has been hinting that Shor covers the costs of this operation (TV-8, May 6; Ziarul National, May 15; Jurnal TV, May 19).
On May 8, Candu announced the formation of a parliamentary “anti-government bloc,” opposing the Socialist-led government. This opposition bloc includes Pro Moldova and Shor’s Party: in effect, then, a plutocratic project. But it postures as Western-oriented, promising to “restore Moldova’s European course” and calling on parliamentary groups and any individual deputies to form an anti-Socialist bloc of “all pro-Western forces” (Ziarul National, May 8). No group has hastened to join.
Meanwhile, this bloc has grown to 19 deputies as of today (May 20), reducing the governmental majority from 64 to 52 seats in the 101-seat parliament. Those 52 include 37 Socialist and 15 Democratic seats. Just two more seats changing sides would result in a disabled minority government or its outright collapse.
That may well happen by further transfers from the Democratic Party’s rump to Pro Moldova and Shor’s Party. The Socialist parliamentary party is solid and disciplined, but Candu will probably try raiding it as well to induce Socialist defections (Ziarul National, Unimedia, May 8–20).
Nor can it be ruled out that Candu wants to extort some concessions from the authorities in return for halting the parliamentary majority’s hemorrhage. Should, however, the government collapse outright, or be reduced to a minority government and be forced to resign, Candu’s group may emerge as a balance holder in this splintered parliament, Moldova’s most fragmented ever.
It is a peculiarity of this plutocratic opposition that it seeks a tactical alliance with the democratic, pro-Western parliamentary opposition. That is the ACUM (“NOW”) bloc, comprised of two parties under Maia Sandu and Andrei Nastase, respectively, and holding 27 parliamentary seats between them.
Candu brings his “anti-government bloc” (21 parliamentary seats and potentially growing—see above) to the table for negotiation. He needs a deal with ACUM, first, to mitigate his negative image across Moldova’s political lines and in the West, resulting from his association with Plahotniuc and Shor. Second, Candu needs that deal for the political objective of entering the next governing coalition alongside ACUM, with his own dowry of at least 21 deputies. Third, he hopes to recover at least this share of political power, admittedly far less than he used to wield, but entailing immunity from prosecution, gaining a role in coalition-forming negotiations, and leveraging that role to bargain for ministerial or other posts. For such reasons, participation in governing coalitions is the foremost goal of small parties in splintered parliaments such as Moldova’s (and in neighboring Ukraine until very recently).
Candu’s Democratic Party in the Plahotniuc era (2010–2019) was highly skilled at intra-coalition bargaining to multiply its own power. Ironically, the Democratic Party’s remaining leaders are now warning the ACUM bloc’s parties against the dangers of coalescence with Candu’s bloc fronting for Plahotniuc and Shor (Deschide.md, May 20).